FILE – In this Monday, June 29, 2020 file photo, clockwise from top left, Simone Ngalula, Monique Bitu Bingi, Lea Tavares Mujinga, Noelle Verbeeken and Marie-Jose Loshi pose for a group photo during an interview with The Associated Press in Brussels. Five biracial women born in Congo when the country was under Belgian rule who were taken away from their Black mothers and separated from their African roots are suing the Belgian state for crimes against humanity. The case is being examined on hursday, Oct. 14, 2021 by a Brussels court. (AP Photo/Francisco Seco, File)
‘BRUSSELS (AP) — A court in Brussels has started considering a crimes against humanity lawsuit brought by five biracial women who were born in Congo and taken away from their Black mothers when they were little and the country was under Belgian colonial rule.
Lea Tavares Mujinga, Monique Bintu Bingi, Noelle Verbeken, Simone Ngalula and Marie-Jose Loshi are suing the Belgian state in hopes it will recognize its responsibility for the suffering of thousands of mixed-race children. Known as “metis,” the children were snatched away from families and placed in religious institutions and homes by Belgian authorities that ruled Congo from 1908 to 1960.
“My clients were abducted, abused, ignored, expelled from the world,” lawyer Michele Hirsch said Thursday as a court in the Belgian capital examined the civil case. “They are living proof of an unconfessed state crime, and soon there will be no one left to testify.”
The five women have requested compensation of 50,000 euros ($55,000) each.. The court is expected to deliver a verdict within six weeks.
The five women, all born between 1945 and 1950, filed their lawsuit last year amid growing demands for Belgium to reassess its colonial past.
In the wake of protests against racial inequality in the United States, several statues of former King Leopold II, who is blamed for the deaths of millions of Africans during Belgium’s colonial rule, have been vandalized in Belgium, and some have been removed.
In 2019, the Belgian government apologized for the state’s role in taking thousands of babies from their African mothers. And for the first time in the country’s history, a reigning king expressed regret last year for the violence carried out by the former colonial power.
Hirsch said Belgium’s actions are inadequate to what her clients experienced.
“The Belgian state did not have the courage to go all the way, to name the crime, because its responsibility incurred damages,” the lawyer said.. “Apologies for history, yes, but reparations to the victims, no.”
Lawyers say the five plaintiffs were all between the ages of 2 and 4 when they were taken away at the request of the Belgian colonial administration, in cooperation with local Catholic Church authorities.
FILE – In this Monday, June 29, 2020 file photo, from left, Marie-Jose Loshi, Monique Bitu Bingi, Lea Tavares Mujinga, Simone Ngalula and Noelle Verbeeken speak with each other as they as they look over papers during an interview with The Associated Press in Brussels. Five biracial women born in Congo when the country was under Belgian rule who were taken away from their Black mothers and separated from their African roots are suing the Belgian state for crimes against humanity. The case is being examined on hursday, Oct. 14, 2021 by a Brussels court. (AP Photo/Francisco Seco, File)
According to legal documents, in all five cases the fathers did not exercise parental authority, and the Belgian administration threatened the girls’ Congolese families with reprisals if they refused to let them go.
The children were placed at a religious mission in Katende, in the province of Kasai, with the Sisters of Saint Vincent de Paul. There, they lived with some 20 other mixed-race girls and Indigenous orphans in very hard conditions.
According to the lawyers, the Belgian state’s strategy was aimed at preventing interracial unions and isolating métis children, known as the “children of shame,” to make sure they would not claim a link with Belgium later in their lives.
Legal documents claim the children were abandoned by both the state and the church after Congo gained independence, and that some of them were sexually molested by militia fighters.
“If they are fighting for this crime to be recognized, it is for their children, their grandchildren. Because the trauma is transmitted from generation to generation,” Hirsch said Thursday. “We ask you to name the crime and to condemn the Belgian state.”
The fact that centuries-old relics of slavery still support the economy of the United States suggests that reparations for slavery would need to go beyond government payments to the ancestors of enslaved people to account for profit-generating, slave-built infrastructure.
While difficult to calculate, scholars estimate that much of the physical infrastructure built before 1860 in the American South was built with enslaved labor.
Railways were particularly critical infrastructure. According to “The American South,” an in-depth history of the region, railroads “offered solutions to the geographic barriers that segmented the South,” including swamps, mountains and rivers. For inland planters needing to get goods to port, trains were “the elemental precondition to better times.”
Our archival research on Montgomery, Alabama, shows that enslaved workers built and maintained the Montgomery Eufaula Railroad. This 81-mile-long railroad, begun in 1859, connected Montgomery to the Central Georgia Line, which served both Alabama’s fertile cotton-growing region – cotton picked by enslaved hands – and the textile mills of Georgia.
The Eufala Railroad also gave Alabama commercial access to the Port of Savannah. Savannah was a key cotton and rice trading port, and slavery was integral to the growth of the city.
The Eufala Railroad closed in the 1970s. But the company that funded its construction – Lehman Durr & Co., a prominent Southern cotton brokerage – existed well into the 20th century.
Examining court affidavits and city records located in the Montgomery city archive, we learned the Montgomery Eufaula Railroad Company received US$1.8 million in loans from Lehman Durr & Co. The main backers of Lehman Durr & Co. went on to found Lehman Brothers bank, one of Wall Street’s largest investment banks until it collapsed in 2008, in the U.S. financial crisis.
Some of these same rail lines still drive Georgia’s economy. According to a 2013 state report, railways that went through Georgia in 2012 carried over US$198 billion in agricultural products and raw materials needed for U.S. industry and manufacturing.
Savannah, Atlanta and Montgomery all show how, far from being an artifact of history, as some critics of reparations suggest, slavery has a tangible presence in the American economy.
And not just in the South. Wall Street, in New York City, is associated with the trading of stocks. But in the 18th century, enslaved people were bought and sold there. Even after New York closed its slave markets, local businesses sold and shipped cotton grown in the slaveholding South.
Geographic research like ours could inform thinking on monetary reparations by helping to calculate the ongoing financial value of slavery.
Like scholarship drawing the connection between slavery and modern mass incarceration, however, our work also suggests that direct payments to indviduals cannot truly account for the modern legacy of slavery. It points toward a broader concept of reparations that reflects how slavery is built into the American landscape, still generating wealth.
Such reparations might include government investments in aspects of American life where Black people face disparities.
Last year the city council in Asheville, North Carolina, voted for “reparations in the form of community investment.” Priorities could include efforts to increase access to affordable housing and boost minority business ownership. Asheville will also explore strategies to close the racial gap in health care.
It is very difficult, perhaps impossible, to calculate the total contemporary economic impact of slavery. But we see recognizing that enslaved men, women and children built many of the cities, rail lines and ports that fuel the American economy as a necessary part of any such accounting.
(RNS) — On the first Wednesday in May, as the centennial of the Tulsa massacre approached, the Rev. Robert R.A. Turner stood outside Tulsa City Hall with his megaphone, as he does every week.
“Tulsa, you will reap what you sow and that which you have done unto the least of these my children, Jesus said, you have done also unto me,” said Turner, 38, the pastor of Historic Vernon African Methodist Episcopal Church, captured on a video posted on Facebook.
“We come here to say, for your own benefit, you ought to do reparations not tomorrow, not even next week, not next month, not next year, but we demand reparations now!”
Turner’s Vernon AME is one of the plaintiffs in a suit filed in September that calls for the city of Tulsa and other defendants to pay reparations to relatives of victims and survivors of the May 31, 1921, massacre that destroyed a part of town known as “Black Wall Street.”
Beginning with false rumors spread though the Oklahoma city that a young Black man had assaulted a white female elevator operator, within about 16 hours, a white mob killed an estimated 300 Black people and destroyed thousands of homes, businesses and churches.
As Tulsa pauses to mark the somber centenary in its Greenwood district, where Black Wall Street was located, Turner and other Black people of faith are among those saying the time has come to repay as well as to remember.
The lawsuit argues that the tragedy is a continuing “public nuisance” that Tulsa should remedy through monetary means.
Among the suit’s petitions to the Tulsa County District Court are payments to descendants of those who were killed, injured or displaced by the massacre; development of educational and mental health programs for individuals and organizations in Greenwood and North Tulsa; and a scholarship program for “Massacre descendants” for post-secondary education in Oklahoma.
The suit states that Vernon AME Church, “founded in 1905, is the only standing Black-owned structure from the Historic Black Wall Street era and the only edifice that remains from the Massacre. Vernon’s sanctuary burned in the Massacre. The basement was the only part of the red brick building that remained.”
The church joins other plaintiffs in charging that they never received resources to recover from the trauma and damage of the massacre.
The city, responding in court documents to the suit, questioned the framing of its claims and the idea that the city’s current problems can be attributed to 100-year-old wrongs.
“At its base level, Plaintiffs are attempting to seek reparations for the events of June 1921 while working around the inherent statute of limitations problems that have thwarted other lawsuits bringing similar claims,” the city argued.
It added that the suit’s claims of continuing racial inequalities are “nebulous” and said “community wide issues such as racial disparity are caused by a number of factors and cannot be traced to specific actions or omissions to act of or by the City, nor is it a nuisance that can be simply abated by the City.”
In 2001, the Oklahoma Commission to Study the Tulsa Race Riot of 1921 called for reparations for the massacre, including payment to survivors and descendants, a scholarship fund, establishment of an economic development zone in the historic area, and a memorial for reburial of remains of victims found in unmarked graves.
“Perhaps this report, and subsequent humanitarian recovery events by the governments and the good people of the state will extract us from the guilt and confirm the commandment of a good and just God — leaving the deadly deeds of 1921 buried in the call for redemption, historical correctness, and repair,” wrote then-state Rep. Don Ross in the prologue of the report.
Turner, who arrived in the city in 2017 to lead his church, agrees with all of the commission’s recommendations and hopes for a full criminal investigation. His petition for reparations has been signed by more than 26,000 people.
“This is about sin and an abominable sin — racism,” said the minister, who calls the massacre a “genocide of people simply because of the color of their skin.”
Gregory Thompson, co-author of a new book, “Reparations: A Christian Call for Repentance and Repair,” said the Tulsans’ demands show how the movement for reparations has extended beyond atonement for the United States’ involvement in slavery to repairing societal ills, and that not just the federal government but local and regional officials are being called to account.
“It’s not to say that I don’t think the federal government should be involved — I do,” said Thompson, a white scholar who directs Voices Underground, a team of researchers and community members focused on the history of the Underground Railroad in the Philadelphia area. “But I think community-based reparations allow African American leaders a lot more agency in this conversation than if it’s located at the federal government, which is not equitably representative of African Americans.”
Regional reparations initiatives have become more common of late. Since the 1990s, descendants of survivors of the 1923 massacre in the majority-Black enclave of Rosewood, Florida, have received state scholarships.
In March, the Evanston City Council, in Illinois, began approving reparations that provide mortgage and other housing assistance to local Black residents to make amends for racially discriminatory housing practices. In April, Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam signed a bill mandating that five of the state’s older public universities pay for scholarships or community redevelopment programs, starting in 2022, to benefit descendants of enslaved workers who built them.
Vernon AME is one of 23 churches in Greenwood that predate the massacre, of which 13 survived, according to a tally by Faith Still Standing, an ecumenical group of congregations that have rebuilt in the area or beyond it.
The Rev. Robert Givens pastors Christ Temple Christian Methodist Episcopal Church, a congregation that was founded in Greenwood but has since moved. Its original building was still new when it was destroyed in the massacre.
“When we think of Black Wall Street, it was tremendously a thriving area of all-Black businesses,” said Givens. “So a lot of the churches were just now getting started in that area” when they were burned down.
“Nothing was ever done for them or to help them in that situation,” said Christ Temple’s trustee board chairperson, Annette Gathron, of the people who lost homes, businesses and belongings along with their churches.
Some of those whose families survived the massacre have become key figures in the city’s Black history. The late John Hope Franklin, the famed historian, was a member of Christ Temple, and his father, attorney B.C. Franklin, helped pay off the church’s mortgage on the brick building it constructed after the massacre.
Gathron said she hopes to attend some of the worship services marking the centennial.
A ” Unity Day Worship Guide ” for congregations to use on the last Sunday in May is included in an online list of options for commemorative activities.
Gathron said she also intends to keep younger members of her family aware of the history of the city where she has lived for more than 60 years.
“I think that it’s good that we are remembering and I plan to take my great-grands to some of this so they can understand the struggles that we have had,” she said.
She traditionally takes nieces and nephews visiting from across the country on a walking tour through historic Greenwood, including a stop at Vernon AME.
“I think it’s important for them to know that they can achieve because this, at one time, was a very thriving community.”
On May 31, Tucker’s 130-member church, which opened in a rebuilt sanctuary in 1928, plans to dedicate “a prayer wall for racial healing” that will include an exterior wall of the basement that survived 100 years ago.
Once built, Turner hopes it will draw people of all faiths and none for prayer and meditation. “The idea behind it is to have people of all nations come and to pray and talk to God to help us with this racial healing that we need in the world,” he said.
You can hear from Pastor Robert Turner alongside other leaders virtually tonight (June 2, 2021) at Friendship West Baptist Church in Dallas, TX as they commemorate the Tulsa Race Massacre of 1921 in A Sankofa Moment. Conversation will also feature Nancy St. Jacobs, VP of Community Business Development for Truist Bank, and Lamar Tyler, Founder of Traffic Sales & Profit moderated by Dr. Frederick D. Haynes III.
An Episcopal seminary in Virginia has announced plans to create a $1.7 million endowment fund whose proceeds will support reparations for the school’s ties to slavery.
Virginia Theological Seminary said that enslaved persons worked on its campus and the school “participated in segregation” after the end of slavery.
“This is a start,” said the Very Rev. Ian S. Markham, president of the Alexandria-based seminary, in the statement. “As we seek to mark (the) Seminary’s milestone of 200 years, we do so conscious that our past is a mixture of sin as well as grace. This is the Seminary recognizing that along with repentance for past sins, there is also a need for action.”
A spokesman for the seminary said officials know of three buildings on its campus that were built with slave labor, including Aspinwall Hall, where the dean’s and admissions offices are located.
“We do want to honor those who worked in this place and we want to provide financial resources for their descendants,” said Curtis Prather, the seminary’s director of communications. “The Office of Multicultural Ministries will take the lead in the exhaustive research that will need to take place.”
Aspinwall Hall at Virginia Theological Seminary was one of three buildings on campus built with slave labor. Photo by John W. Cross/Creative Commons
The seminary, which was founded in 1823 but admitted its first African American student in 1951, raised the funds for the endowment with a capital campaign. School officials estimate that they will spend $70,000 annually from accumulated interest on reparations.
The decision comes as other institutions of higher learning, some with ties to religion, have mulled whether to offer forms of reparations or not.
In 2017, Georgetown University apologized for its involvement in the 1838 sale of more than 270 enslaved persons that kept the Catholic-run school from bankruptcy. The school renamed two buildings that once honored former university presidents who were priests and supporters of the slave trade. A year earlier, Georgetown announced that it would give preferential status in the admissions process to descendants of the enslaved people who had been owned by Maryland Jesuits.
Georgetown spokesperson Meghan Dubyak said the school’s board of directors will not have an “up or down” vote on the student referendum but “will engage thoughtfully and with the most careful consideration of the issues” raised by it.
Crowds of slave descendants and Georgetown University students and staffers gather for a dedication ceremony of two buildings at the school that were renamed, one in honor of a slave sold by Maryland Jesuits, and another for a free black woman educator, on April 18, 2017. RNS photo by Adelle M. Banks
“To my knowledge, this is the most substantial direct financial reparations effort by a university,” said Oast, chair of the history department at Bloomsburg University in Pennsylvania. “What makes this action by VTS more significant is that it has been undertaken by the university itself, and is fully funded.”
Quardricos Driskell, who teaches religion and politics at George Washington University’s Graduate School of Political Management, agreed.
“VTS would by definition be the first to have a fund — a University-established led form of reparations,” Driskell, pastor of Beulah Baptist Church, located about three miles from the seminary, told Religion News Service in an email message.
Other institutions have chosen to recognize their connections to slavery without making monetary reparations. Last year, Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, a flagship institution of the Southern Baptist Convention in Louisville, Kentucky, released a report about its founders condoning slavery and owning slaves, but six months later denied a request from an interracial ministers coalition for financial support for a nearby black college.
Virginia Theological Seminary currently has an enrollment of about 200 master’s and doctoral level students.
The school intends to determine with stakeholders how the income from the endowment fund will be distributed. It said some of it will be allocated to descendants of enslaved persons who worked at the seminary and to assist the work of African American alumni, especially those involved with historic black churches. It also plans to encourage African American clergy in the Episcopal Church and support programs that promote inclusion and justice.
“Though no amount of money could ever truly compensate for slavery, the commitment of these financial resources means that the institution’s attitude of repentance is being supported by actions of repentance that can have a significant impact both on the recipients of the funds, as well as on those at VTS,” said the Rev. Joseph Thompson, director of the seminary’s Office of Multicultural Ministries, in a statement.
“It opens up a moment for us to reflect long and hard on what it will take for our society and institutions to redress slavery and its consequences with integrity and credibility.”
In this Juneteenth edition of Pop & Circumstance, we consider the U.S. Senate’s late-but-official apology for slavery and Jim Crow, Tweets from a revolution, Jazz at the White House, ‘Speidi’ and the problem with reality TV religion, and what will Mary Mary sing at the BET Awards?
Senate Apologizes for Slavery — and Spartacus Wins
This week in “Current Events You Thought Shoulda Happened 40 Years Ago,” the United States has officially given its “my bad” on slavery. On Thursday, led by Iowa lawmaker Tom Harkin, the U.S. Senate passed a resolution apologizing for the “enslavement and segregation of African-Americans” and recognizing the “fundamental injustice, cruelty, brutality, and inhumanity of slavery and Jim Crow laws.” Though the apology is official, there was concern among some senators that the language in the resolution would leave the door open for lawsuits or a demand for reparations.
While African Americans are certainly delighted with the apology, presumably 92-year-old Spartacus film icon Kirk Douglas is also happy. The actor had been petitioning Congress for an apology for slavery for years. Just this past April, Douglas wrote on his MySpace page: “As I told you quite some time ago, in my last book Let’s Face It, I wrote about the importance of our country showing the world that we are capable of humility by making an apology for our behavior towards African Americans before and after the Civil War.” The veteran actor also collected signatures in support of the apology on MySpace. Isn’t it interesting that a resolution like this hadn’t happened already? Well, better late than never.
The Revolution in 140 Characters or Less
Lest we think Twitter is just another useless digital platform to share a constant stream of the minutiae of our lives, the social networking site that asks members to share what they’re doing in 140-characters or less just got more interesting. Following the controversial election in Iran, protesters who were blocked from using other forms of online communication by government officials took to the Twitterverse to share their discontent. Sympathetic Twitter users from all across the world joined in the protest, spreading word about the election and even encouraging greater mainstream news media coverage of the events. Some even helped protect Iranian protesters from being tracked by changing their Twitter location and time zone to act as “proxy or ghost Iranians.”
The viral nature of Twitter allowed those of us who may not be politically savvy or aware to instantly participate on the front lines of a massive international protest against a Middle Eastern government from the convenience of our laptops or mobile phones. I had no idea about the Iranian election, but found out about the protest from my friend Kyle Westaway who is an attorney in New York City. He sent out the following Twitter update to all of his followers: “Twitter Friends: Change your location and time zone to Tehran and +3.30 to help the protesting Iranians from being tracked. #iranelection”. Since his Twitter account links to his Facebook profile, he alone spread word of the event to hundreds of people with just one click.
The implications of this kind of mass mobilization are great, particularly for people of faith who are called to bring the needs and concerns of society’s marginalized people to the forefront of our culture.
Jazz at the White House
As much as I’m trying not to be all Obama all the time, I can’t help it. The First Family just keeps getting cooler. On June 15th, the White House hosted a Jazz Studio, featuring musicians from the Marsalis family, the Duke Ellington Jazz Festival and the Thelonius Monk Jazz Institute. In her remarks to the 150 high school students who attended the event, First Lady Michelle Obama referred to jazz as “America’s indigenous art form” and the best example of American democracy with its emphasis on “individual freedom, but with responsibility to the group.” UrbanFaith’s resident Jazz Theologian, Robert Gelinas, calls jazz more than music. He says, “[Jazz] is a way of thinking and a way of viewing the world. It is about freedom within community. It is a culture, that is, a set of values and norms by which we can experience life in general and faith in particular.” We couldn’t agree more, and it’s a pleasure to see the Obama White House encouraging creativity and re-imparting value on artistic expression.
Reality TV Piety
When Stephen Baldwin baptized Spencer Pratt a couple of weeks ago on television’s I’m a Celebrity … Get Me Out of Here, we let it slide. It didn’t seem right to comment on such a clearly misguided publicity stunt, despite the Christian relevance. Besides, the rest of the media was already making a mockery of the incident. NBC, the network that produces the show, titled video clips of the baptism as “Stephen Baldwin shoves the devil out of Spencer” or “Saved by Stephen.” The whole thing was ridiculous, but this kind of behavior is par for the course when it comes to the former MTV Hills reality show star Spencer Pratt and his wife Heidi Montag. The couple has been injecting itself into tabloid headlines for months with self-generated drama. For a while they bought a few extra minutes of reality star fame by selling the story of a feud between Montag and Hills co-star Lauren Conrad. Then it was plastic surgery and a botched music career for Heidi that culminated in a Pratt-directed beach video. Most recently the couple invited paparazzi to their rushed wedding in Mexico.
But now things have gone too far. Montag, a self-proclaimed Christian who often “tweets” about her faith, is posing for Playboy, and she’s justifying the decision by calling herself a “modern day Mother Teresa.” As my mother would say, if she thinks she’s Mother Theresa, then she’s got another think coming. And though we’re not in the business of judging anyone’s faith here at UrbanFaith, we can express our disappointment over how “Speidi” is portraying Christianity in popular culture. We wish they would keep quiet about their faith until they figure out what they really believe. In the meantime, they’re probably doing more damage to the Church’s reputation. What do you think?
The Word on BET
A couple of weeks ago we shared with you the gospel nominees for the upcoming 2009 BET Awards. Now we have more information on the performers. Set your DVRs for 8pm ET/PT on June 28th because Mary Mary will take the stage. We hope the gospel gals sing something deep from their recent album, and perhaps bypass the secular-friendly “God In Me” single. It’s a toe-tapper, but with this kind of platform, they might want to deliver a message with a little more gospel truth. Also scheduled to perform are Beyoncé, Kanye West, Maxwell, Ne-Yo, Fabolous, Young Jeezy, and Soulja Boy.